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Chiros and Flow

by Mark Peres

April 8,2009

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the meaning of life. Yes, the point of existence; one of the big questions as far as questions go. The question is so grand and theological that to think about it seems pretentious – our best novelists and prophets and artists give it a go and come up wanting (or so we often think), so what chance do we have to arrive at a satisfactory response? It’s a fool’s errand (or so it seems), so what’s the point in even asking? Better to attend to the demands of the day. That’s hard enough, especially in these times. 

And yet the question persists. I’ve been thinking about it, as I’m wont to do, but more so lately as many of the students I teach and have befriended are about to graduate and are weighing significant life choices. Do they accept a job that they had never considered but is suddenly attractive as a resolution to their job search? Do they go off to grad school to a program that will at least provide some structure for a few more years? Do they factor in a college love affair or break off and venture on their own? 

I can listen, and I do, reflecting on my own choices, on what I’ve internalized as lessons learned, offering counsel when asked, but I don’t know the answers for them, if there are any answers at all.  I do know that my own journey has been about the nature of time and experience. 

Here’s how it works for me (when I pay attention): there is Chronos time and there is Chiros time. Chronos time is human time, counted in minutes and seconds. It is time measured by speed. As Peter (last name unknown) writes in his blog, Theomorph, “the world of human experience clicks by at a pretty regular rate. Seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries, millennia. It all adds up, goes forward but not backward, and we cannot avoid it. We all experience Chronos time when we are late for appointments and when we celebrate birthdays. Nothing we can do will speed or slow the inexorable progress of the clock.” 

In contrast, Chiros time is the time of the gods, counted in essence and quality. It is time measured by depth. It is inner life in which a moment is stretched into eternity in our outer life. Time as we know it is altered as we are profoundly in the now. We’ve all had these moments, when all stops and all flows, slow dancing with our beloved. 

I have cried in such moments, my heart breaking in joy, immersed in a Famous Flower in Manhattan. All other choices have been for me traps, distractions and disappointments. 

We know ‘flow’ as that mental state in which we are fully absorbed in what we are doing, our skills and the challenge are matched, we are both energized and in command, intrinsically rewarded by the activity itself, and aware of our actions as if watching ourselves. We are in time and of time, succeeding as the universe makes itself available to us, fully alive, powerful, and awake to our aliveness. 

Many speak of this as self-actualization, but it is not Abraham Maslow who got it right, but rather Victor Frankl, who described a higher stage of self-transcendence. It is when we are authentically ourselves, yet outside ourselves for something other than ourselves, that we live into Chiros and flow. 

I am joyful in the classroom when students claim the space as their own and belong. I am joyful writing and the words come and create a desired future state on the page. I am joyful when my wife and daughter and I touch fingertips before dinner and pray for grace in a room of our own. 

I think of my students who are graduating and the meaning of their lives. My desire for them is to apply their gifts to complex tasks for a purpose greater than themselves. They will live into wonder and joy by declaring the possibility and allowing the possibility to create it in them.

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